Digital Corporate Cafeterias: The upcoming trend in the foodservice industry

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Food. Just a single word that conjures tastes, emotions, memories, connections, cultural associations, and so much more. It’s at the heart of every social occasion, and could even be the sole talking point among strangers with nothing else in common.
Being so innately linked to our identity, our earliest impressions of food are naturally those of savouring home-cooked delicacies. Dining out used to be such a luxury at one time, reserved only for special occasions. This changed in the 1990s with the entry of international food chains in India. These restaurants often offered quirky local variations of international favourites at attractive prices, and with a brand new promise. Home delivery! Visits to restaurants soon started getting replaced with quick phone calls. What’s more, some of these restaurants even offered money back policies if the food was not delivered in record time!
The lesser initiated took up the services of phone-based search services, to expand their directory of home-delivered food. At first, it was just about placing the meal order on the phone, with cash on delivery on receipt. But there’s been no looking back since then! Let’s see how food delivery has evolved over the years.
Food for every mood
With the growth in disposable incomes, more exposure to different types of cuisines, and ease of Internet use, a chunk of food ordering has moved online over the years. Calling up the restaurant for a home delivery service is quite passé now. The working population has taken to this new trend most willingly, especially those who are not able to carry home-cooked lunches to office. The traditional dabbawalas of Mumbai, for instance, may have been an employee’s only source for a wholesome lunch at one time. With the option of online ordering, however, executives have been able to access a varied menu from a range of eateries and can even order last-minute nowadays, instead of setting up monthly agreements with the dabbawalas in advance!
Be it the office-goers ordering a sumptuous lunch, a group of friends craving the best cheesecake, or a 20-something bachelor hungry after work, online ordering and food delivery has been the perfect answer for all the hunger pangs. Not only has the varied online food catalog managed to tempt the tastebuds of diners with different preferences, online food delivery setups have also promised a traffic-free lunch experience for busy working professionals who don’t want to waste extra time on their lunch break.
With growing smartphone penetration, users just need to log in to restaurant apps to quickly and easily place meal orders, without any interruptions, or time wasted in call waiting. Apps often offer discounts, and delivery has been free too, sometimes even without a minimum order value! Over 400 food delivery apps were rolled out from 2013–2016, to cash in on the profits of the food tech business. Even home chefs have teamed up with startups in this space, to offer personalised healthy meals online for fitness-focused individuals, and working professionals looking for a light lunch.
The food delivery cookie crumbles…But not quite
While many of these food delivery start-ups may have been forced to wrap operations in a few years, due to a lack of funds and poor operations planning, others have restructured business plans to continue to gain a share of the food tech space. And the numbers are still encouraging! Online orders grew by 150 per cent in 2016, despite being a challenging year for food delivery start-ups due to limited margins.
Sensing more growth opportunities in this sector, even non-food industry players are entering the food delivery business with innovative models. A leading cab aggregator, for instance, has recently introduced a food delivery app to the Indian audience, to connect customers with a wider range of restaurants and delivery partners. Other startups from different domains are also entering the food delivery space to make the most of emerging prospects. And public enterprises are not far behind! The Indian Railways, for instance, has begun partnering with leading food chains on its e-catering service, so that passengers can pre-order meals online and have them delivered at designated stations. Within the food delivery industry, cloud kitchens are becoming the next buzzword, offering an end-to-end delivery platform for takeaways, without the operational expenses of a restaurant.
Corporates want a share of the pie too!
The buzz generated by online food ordering and delivery has also made a deep impact on the corporate dining space. It was definitely long overdue! After all, executives in the workforce spend most of their productive hours 5–6 days a week in offices. Food provides a welcome break in the middle of busy as well as lighter periods of work, and seamless ordering and delivery systems can make or break experience for tech-savvy employees.
Especially since the Indian Government’s demonetization announcement in November 2016, employees have been more than happy to adopt digital payments and dispense with cash and change hassles. And what better place to enjoy e-payments than in the office cafeteria itself! Large corporate offices and IT parks have already been running cafeterias for some time now. Since the cafeteria fare competes with the best that takeaway cuisines from elsewhere can offer, facility managers and admins in-charge are well-aware of the importance of maintaining food quality and service delivery. Add to that peak hour service delivery pressures, long cafeteria queues, cash and change reconciliation, and pilferage issues faced daily in the corporate cafeteria. Employees are quick to change loyalties if their expectations are not met. However, they are also keen to save time on the lunch break and often find it more hassle-free to dine in-house than look for regular takeaway options if they are satisfied with the menu and service. Luckily, the entry of digital cafeteria solutions is signalling a major overhaul of traditional operations.
Digital corporate cafeterias can ensure that employees enjoy the convenience of quick and easy food delivery with cash-free transactions. With secure and user-friendly mobile ordering interfaces in place, employees can select menu preferences from the comfort of their workstations. Online ordering facilities are often complemented with real-time tracking capabilities too, giving a clear view of meal preparation time. When the meals are ready, employees can head to the cafeteria to pick up their food, or request their in-house butler to deliver it to their seat, ensuring zero-queue cafeterias. With digital cafeterias in place, corporate admins and facility managers have also been able to offer a queue-free experience for employees at all times. Transparent online payments also spell the end of cash pilferage, and no extra account reconciliation efforts are required.
Infact, Zeta, a fintech startup belonging to the Directi group, has been pioneering developments in this space with innovative cafeteria modernisation solutions. With its range of digital ordering and payment facilities, this start-up has ushered in a revolution in cafeterias by seamlessly integrating its technology solutions within existing corporate cafeteria setups.
It seems like digital corporate cafeterias are really here to stay! They offer a win-win situation for every corporate and employee, and as the employee base continues to grow and the demand for quick food delivery among the workforce increases, it looks like the process is only set to get better.

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